“Diversity is a taboo word,” said Feranmi Okanlami, MD, MS, addressing an audience of UAB Medicine employees. “I asked people yesterday, ‘What is it that you feel when someone says, “diversity”?’ I know, whether you want to acknowledge it or not, certain people out there get uncomfortable. They think that you’re talking about bringing people who aren’t qualified in to replace people that are. . .  theFeranmi Okanlami conversation to be had is not that this side is right, and this side is wrong, but that there is right and wrong on both sides of the fence.”

Dr. Okanlami’s address was the result of a collaboration between the School of Medicine Office for Diversity and Inclusion’s Diversity Grand Rounds and Nursing Schwartz Rounds. The January 26 lecture was one of the key events of Diversity Weekend, which coincided with second look weekend for resident applicants. The unique nature of the joint event between the School of Medicine and Nursing allowed Okanlami’s message broader reach.Oluwaferanmi “Feranmi” Okanlami was born in Nigeria before immigrating to the United States with his parents at a young age. His significant academic achievements earned him a spot at Stanford University for his undergraduate education, where he majored in Honors Interdisciplinary Studeis in the Humanities for PreMed students with an eye toward attending medical school. He ran Track & Field all four years, captaining the team his last two seasons, and achieving Academic All American recognition.

After completing his medical degree at the University of Michigan, he matched into an orthopedic surgery residency at Yale. At the beginning of his third year of residency, Okanlami suffered a spinal cord injury which left him paralyzed from the chest down. Following two surgeries at Yale and several months of intense inpatient rehabilitation, he regained some return of motor function. During his continued outpatient rehabilitation, he joined the ESTEEM program at Notre Dame and earned a Master’s degree in Engineering, Science, and Technology Entrepreneurship. Ultimately he decided to pursue a residency in family medicine, and is now a faculty member in Michigan Medicine, at the University of Michigan.

“Too often,” Okanlami told his audience at UAB, “we are judged by what we cannot do, rather than what we can.”

He discussed the importance of inclusion in diversity, and of welcoming those to the table who had different experiences in order to improve the quality of operations for everyone. “We should be learning from each other,” he said. “By having people with a different experience, you can gain knowledge from them to raise the level of care for everyone. If you have a homogenous group of people, you are not giving the best care you can give.”

The recording of his full address can be viewed below.